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interesting interview with "founder of couchsurfing" at Berkman Center
Posted May 16th, 2009 - 12:01 pm by from Brussels, Belgium (Permalink)

Posted May 16th, 2009 - 2:41 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
Thanks Kasper.

The video is 1 hour 10 minutes long. It touches many of the issues we have been discussing here lately, including trust features. So for those who do not have the time or want to skip Dan Hoffer's biography, here's a rough table of contents with the start times and some quotes and comments:

0:15 "We made things more robust, we have had to invest a lot into the scalability of the site, because we now get so much traffic". Comment to put this into perspective: As we have discussed here in the past, we are talking about 1000 - 2000 simultaneous connections at any given time, and we still site outages (or servers which do not respond) just about every day.

0:16 safety

Interestingly, when asked about safety, Dan Hoffer talks immediately about the PR team trained for spinning problems rather than how safety issues are actually adressed, and the interviewer has to ask the question again more specifically to make him talk about the trust features. Dan is then assimilating the CS reference system with ebay ratings.

0:20 references, cultural differences in "rating", system abuse

0:22 verification, "sometimes use passport verification"

Quote: "Can you guarantee that couchsurfing is safe, absolutely not. There is no such guarantee."

0:25 What percentage of feedback is negative, MDST

0:28 Stealthing feature: MDST can turn an account into a "stealth account" that appears active to the profile owner, but actually isn't

0:29 Biggest worry: risk that culture changes with growth – keep the right kind of people involved, keep the special culture

0:38 revenue model, "verification: roughly 10% of members" (which is wrong or very "rough", the published number being 5.6%). Interesting question if "verifications are donations" on which he stumbles.
"A couple of years ago 83% of income was from verification, 17% from donation. He suspects the proportion of verification is higher today."

0:40 slip of tongue in the heat of the moment: "right now we are profitable the way it is", which is an unusual way of describing the financial situation of a non-profit organisation.

0:43 staff/volunteer organisation

0:47 volunteer management and motivation, collectives

0:50 splinter groups of volunteers who have left CouchSurfing, Open Source

0:51 ethnicity question

0:55 questioning of revenue from merchandise, only $680: Sales seem indeed to be very low, and "We don't get any margin from the sales" (which seems to contradict what it says on the shop page "Couchsurfing makes two dollars on everything you buy to support the project.")

1:01 Legal questions, 501c3 status
Jokingly made remark: "We might be a cult"

Btw, this is the first public confirmation that I am aware of that Dan Hoffer has taken over as Chairman of the Board from Casey Fenton (answering a question some have been asking in relation to the legality of the previous status).

Posted May 18th, 2009 - 7:31 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
The video has been edited (between minute 28 and 29) and uploaded to Youtube under a new link:


It is also available in various file formats on the website of the Berkman Center:


Posted May 19th, 2009 - 12:10 am by from Brussels, Belgium (Permalink)
Neato, it's available under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported license!

Posted May 19th, 2009 - 12:06 am by from Lille, France (Permalink)
thanks very much for posting this, yet another news item they fail to show us !

but one has to log on to you tube to view it ????

cheers for the summery poly, soon as i watch i shall be commenting !

Posted May 19th, 2009 - 1:10 am by from Lille, France (Permalink)
OMG that guy is a such a pozer !!! this explains so very much !

this is not the project i thought it was its just another to quote his words "market"

some more fun quotes

"right now we're profitable"

"the number crunching gets complicated, cos our prices change"... so its a service you buy ?

but essh that guy is a pozer, how come he answers there questions but not ours ?

Posted May 19th, 2009 - 1:28 pm by from Alexandria, United States (Permalink)
thanks so much Uli for the terrific summary:)

Admittedly I didn't watch this entire videotape but was impressed by Dan's very thorough and fluent description of CS founding and workings. I think he did a good job, overall, and I really appreciate his explanations and Q&A time....great! This is the most complete interview with an LT member I've seen...it was really instructive.

I was curious to know what he would say about the volunteer structure. He mentions 1500 volunteers, by which I assume he meant Ambassadors, which I felt was a missed opportunity to sell the idea that *everyone* is a volunteer for CS...that the site would indeed collapse without the network of travelers and hosts. The good will can only be generated and passed if people actually use the site for hosting/traveling/interacting...and no one's contribution is more or less than another person's. Like a big brain of synaptic junctures, CS functions via connections...all of which are valuable, IMO. I think this point should have received greater emphasis, especially since he mentioned that CS functions upon an idealistic foundation of trust.

Also, he mentions that ambassadors are given "special powers and authority" by the org (43:40's) which I felt was unfortunate, especially without saying specifically what powers ambs are given. We've seen many times how this perception of Amb power is divisive...and baseline: untrue.

I liked the subsequent questioning on decentralizing policy, and on open source (neither of which were pursued from what I saw and regret that). Also a bit of a wince when he said that collectives are held in "fun exotic places" (46:42)...ouch...western US bias anyone? Certainly Costa Rica is not exotic to the CS members of Costa Rica.

Other than those picky points, I really enjoyed what parts I saw and am glad for the positive CS exposure!

thanks a lot Kasper:)

Posted May 20th, 2009 - 3:49 pm by from Lille, France (Permalink)
you know i think we should demand an interview with them !

if they can give them out to boston why not there own community !

Posted May 20th, 2009 - 3:17 am by from Berlin, Germany (Permalink)
Just tried to access and I get "This video is private". Does anyone have a copy?

Be well - Callum.

Posted May 20th, 2009 - 6:45 am by from Paris, France (Permalink)
"Just tried to access and I get "This video is private". Does anyone have a copy?"

The original upload has been replaced with an edited version. Try one of the links in the third post:


Posted May 20th, 2009 - 3:53 pm by from Lille, France (Permalink)
what was edited out ?

Posted September 6th, 2011 - 8:25 am by from Paris, France (Permalink)
I was just reminded of that video again and must thank Dan for delivering proof of the real intentions and strategy, and the possibility to compare what was said with what was done:

Interesting the part where he says that the biggest worry is the risk that the culture changes with growth, the difficulty to keep the right kind of people involved, keep the special culture, to grow in a way that is sustainable and positive (29th minute).

And that's why they did this drive for quantity, hooked up with Facebook and brought in venture capitalists who aren't even able to fill their CS profile in the course of one year...

Also, already back then he had a problem with numbers, stating that "roughly 10%" of members were verified when in fact it was 5.6% of profiles and more than 2 years later still is only 8.3%.

I had also already commented back than, and that is probably the most troublesome part of all, that at 0:40 he had a slip of tongue in the heat of the moment: "right now we are profitable the way it is", which is an unusual way of describing the financial situation of a non-profit organisation.

So apparently in Dan Hoffer's mind, CS was always a for-profit corporation, and the non-profit and charity designations just a cover.
That must not have helped obtain 501c3 charity designation. It should be interesting to see in the IRS refusal letter if they have officially picked up on that. And what the new Hampshire authorities, with whom CS has appartently cut a deal to get the assets out, have to say about that.

No need to edit the video again or take it down now, Dan, I have had a backup of the original version, before the first edit, since May 2009.